We are now more than halfwaythrough Succession’s third run. It remains a staggeringly brilliant show; an ice-cold snake pit of ever shifting loyalties, flecked with some of the most giddily baroque dialogue we have heard since Deadwood. Every episode is a thrill. And yet, if you were forced to explain exactly what has happened so far this season, chances are you would struggle.
Perché, veramente, what ha happened? The season began with the fallout from Kendall’s unexpected public broadside against his father and, bene, notwithstanding the GBI investigation, that is still where we are. Logan is stuck in a holding pattern of gruff plotting. Shiv and Tom’s marriage remains in a holding pattern full stop. Shiv and Roman are still bickering with one another. The only real movement from anyone this season has come from Kendall and his growing messiah complex. At this point, there is little need for HBO’s nicely packaged Previously on Successione pre-roll montages, because we all know what happened in the last episode. It was the same as the episode before that, and the episode before that.
And yet we keep watching, and I think I know why. My theory is that something is coming. Something huge and dark and awful. Something that Succession won’t be able to reset the clock on. My theory is that all this stasis is deliberate, that season three of Succession is testing our patience because a killer blow is about to rocket out of nowhere and leave us all permanently winded.
I don’t think I’m alone in noticing a small, but growing, amount of dread. Remember season five of Mad Men, where Don Draper suddenly found himself surrounded by images of death? Nooses were drawn in margins, lift doors opened to reveal nothing but long dark elevator shafts, record players had the same dimensions as coffins. Every conversation, no matter how mundane, felt like it existed explicitly to foreshadow something hideous. This is how I feel about season three of Succession. And let’s not forget, in the penultimate episode of Mad Men’s fifth season, Lane Pryce killed himself.
The darkness at the heart of Succession, always present, if sometimes played for laughs, has decayed and expanded. The Roy siblings, who always managed to retain a loose bond despite their bickering, have been torn apart. Hypnotised by the promise of wealth and power, they have irreparably turned on each other. They are all twisting in the wind, quicker to anger and closer to acting upon their worst impulses. Kendall’s bond with his children has all but vanished. Shiv is sleepwalking through an unhappy marriage. Logan’s health, pure, is on the decline. If season one of Succession was about overcoming your dislike of these characters, and season two was about feeling sorry for them, am starting to believe that season three is where we are actively supposed to start worrying about their future.
At this point, it is an open secret that we are now in the back half of Succession. In an interview with the Times last month, the show’s creator Jesse Armstrong noted that “there is a certain promise in the title”, and said that viewers might feel cheated if the show kept spinning its wheels for ever. Brian Cox, pure, admitted that there are only either one or two seasons left. So the series is definitely building to something. Right now, the uneventful first half of season three feels like the start of a velodrome race. The characters are moving tentatively, taking their time to feel each other out. Before we know it, someone will make a decisive lunge for glory. Poi, God knows, all hell will break loose.
We’re getting closer and closer to that moment. I haven’t been given access to the full season of Succession yet, so I don’t know if my theory is right, but I am a few episodes ahead of broadcast. One upcoming episode, I won’t say which, is so completely drenched in the sense of impending doom that it’s like watching a horror movie. The shadow of catastrophe looms so heavily over every scene that I sat through it with my stomach in knots. I watched it with my wife who, when it finished, remarked that the entire episode was like watching the first 20 minutes of Casualty. We might not know when or where, or how or to whom, but I’ll be amazed if we get to the end of Succession season three without something truly awful happening. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Succession season three airs on Sky Atlantic/Now in the UK and HBO in the US.